MnDOT gives city green light to look at roundabout

Could a second Princeton roundabout lead traffic to Princeton’s Rivertown Crossing and Walmart?

That’s a possibility, according to City Engineer Mike Nielson.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation has given the city of Princeton the OK to move forward with the concept of constructing a roundabout at 21st Avenue and Highway 95.

Nielsen cautions that MnDOT is only giving the city its blessing to look at the idea of a roundabout and has not signed off to allow for the construction of the traffic control system. There are a lot of studies to be performed, as well as input to gather from the public and state and local agencies, Nielson said.

The Princeton City Council on Sept. 26 approved a preliminary and final design and engineering proposal from Nielson and its engineering firm, WSB & Associates in the amount of $287,470.

The city of Princeton, Mille Lacs County and MnDOT previously received $1.2 million in federal funding for improvements to Highway 95 from about 13th Avenue (east of Highway 169) to County Road 31, or 100th Avenue west of the city limits. A total of $1.18 million remains in the project coffers after the completion of an environmental assessment, a corridor layout and some minor improvements to the area, Nielson stated in a memo to the City Council.

The federal funding was earmarked for upgrading Highway 95 from a two-lane road to a four-lane divided highway with left and right turn lanes, a frontage road and a new bridge over Highway 169.

An increase in Highway 95 traffic and the addition of Walmart to the Rivertown Crossing area at 21st Avenue and Highway 95 have resulted in a need for additional improvements at the 21st Avenue-Highway 95 intersection, Nielson said. If the improvements are consistent with the environmental assessment and corridor layout plan, the federal funds can be used for such a project, he added.

The idea of a second Princeton roundabout was first raised back in June. The first roundabout was completed in the fall of 2010 at the intersection of Highway 95 and Rum River Drive, where there had been a signal light intersection.

Nielson said a roundabout is less costly than constructing a signal light intersection at 21st Avenue and Highway 95. A signal intersection requires widening the Highway 95 bridge over Highway 169. A roundabout would more than likely eliminate a need to reconstruct the Highway 95 bridge over Highway 169, he said.

WSB’s engineer fees, estimated at $287,470 for the entire project, will not come from the $1.18 million in federal funds set aside for the project. Instead, the money would ideally come from the city’s capital improvement program, Mayor Paul Whitcomb said.

There is also a potential to assess some of the costs back to property owners who would be benefiting from the project, Nielson suggested.

The project, if launched, will be administered by Mille Lacs County because Princeton is not a state aid city. According to the Minnesota Legislature’s House Research Department, Minnesota’s Municipal State-Aid Street System is a collection of about 3,600 miles of key streets located in 147 Minnesota cities throughout the state, and cities receive financial assistance from the state for construction and maintenance of those streets included in the system. A city must have a population of more than 5,000 to be a state aid city. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated Princeton’s population at 4,676 in July 2011.

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